We all know that "license" in American English is "licence" in British English. But what about the person to whom the licence is given?

Various dictionaries show the 'c' version, e.g.:

Additionally, I can see other resources in my own country using this spelling, e.g.:

But managers in my own company (in Australia) claim to have done "a lot of research" on the subject and decided to use the 's' version. This seems wrong to me, but I would like a better answer to the question before I decide whether to request a change or just change our spell checking to allow their spelling.

  • I strenuously object to the licentious nature of this question!
    – MT_Head
    Apr 20, 2012 at 21:30
  • licensing agreement + licensee and licensor, pretty standard. This is all pretty standard and your managers are right. //autm.net/AUTMMain/media/.../V4/TTP_V4_AnatomyLicense.pdf
    – Lambie
    Jul 1, 2018 at 15:48
  • In British English licence is the correct spelling for the noun, and is also an acceptable variant spelling of the verb. US English allows both spellings for both noun and verb. englishforums.com/English/LicenceAgreementLicenseAgreement/…
    – Lambie
    Jul 1, 2018 at 16:26
  • 1
    @Lambie No, it's not an acceptable variant spelling for the verb. Licence is a noun. The verb is spelled with an s and so licensee and licensor are too. Licencor makes no sense. (The fact that people misuse licencee doesn't make it right or acceptable.)
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 1, 2018 at 18:21
  • 1
    Please do not impute usages to me I did not use. Of course, it's licensee and licensor. In British English, licence (noun) and license (verb). See this IP (intellectual property) from an official British government site: gov.uk/guidance/licensing-intellectual-property Intellectual property can be bought, sold or licensed. I have been editing legal texts for a long, long time.
    – Lambie
    Jul 1, 2018 at 18:34

3 Answers 3


Obviously, in American English one would expect to see something like the following:

What is not so obvious is that British English has a similar graph on these words:

To prove that these graphs are reliable (at least reliable enough for this answer), graphs of American and British English on license vs. licence follow:

American English:

British English:

This ties in with what we already know about British vs. American preferences about the word licence/license. And to a degree it proves a point about licensee vs. licencee. It seems certain that licensee is the preferred spelling in either corpus.

And I'm terribly sorry for the gargantuan scale of this answer, but I thought the graphs would be helpful.


I would suggest using either 's' or 'c' to match the spelling of the verb in whichever variety of English you're writing in, on the basis that the -ee ending is generally used to derive a noun from the verb, not the noun.

(Cf. train/training -> trainee, not *trainingee, or evacute/evacuation -> evacuee, not *evacuationee)

  • Isn't it evacuatee? Although I see my browser marks that as misspelled, but doesn't object to evacuee...
    – Marthaª
    Jul 15, 2011 at 0:02
  • 2
    I'm pretty sure it is evacuee. Google, dictionaries, they seem to agree. Jul 15, 2011 at 0:10
  • I can't say I've ever heard "evacuatee", and Googling it seems to bring up some silly music thing. However, I think it's immaterial to the point I was making. Jul 15, 2011 at 0:51
  • 1
    OK, the usage you mention that your management want to adopt is conventional UK usage; the usage you want to adopt is conventional US usage. I'd say bang your heads together and decide whether you want UK or US usage... Jul 15, 2011 at 2:34
  • 3
    +1 Isn't the spelling of the verb always license? I thought it was only the noun that changed spelling (licence in BrE and license in AmE). See also licensee in the OED and Merriam-Webster.
    – Tragicomic
    Jul 15, 2011 at 10:36

There is no such word, "licencee".

Licence = noun; the licence document. License = verb; i.e. to grant licence. Licensee = the holder of the licence.

The Americans don't like the noun/verb distinction and just use license for both. However, licencee has never been a word.

  • Licensee and licensor do exist.
    – Lambie
    Jul 1, 2018 at 15:47

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